In his MarketWatch article today, Mark Hulbert writes,
Would you be interested in an all-weather portfolio that, despite hardly ever changing its composition, performs creditably in almost all market environments?
Hulbert characterizes the Permanent Portfolio this way:
Browne’s idea was to invest in a basket of asset classes, each one of which has a low correlation with the others. As a result, when any one of the asset classes is performing poorly, there is a good chance that the others will at least be holding their own — if not actually appreciating in value.
He describes Harry Browne’s Permanent Portfolio as an antidote to volatility. He then gives some past performance of the PRPFX fund which somewhat implements Harry Browne’s concept:
This fund over the last 15 years (through Apr. 30) has produced an 8.2% annualized return, which is remarkable given that stocks, gold and bonds did not, individually, do as well: The Wilshire 5000 index gained 7.9% over the same period, the Shearson Lehman Treasury Index produced a 6.3% annualized return, and gold bullion rose at a 7.7% annualized pace.
I might suggest that while the result of the four asset classes is low correlation, that is not the way Harry Browne explained the reasoning. Instead, the portfolio is designed to have one component that does well in each of four different economic circumstances: prosperity (stocks), inflation (gold), deflation (LT Bonds), and recession (cash). Harry said that while you can expect one of the assets to go down, the one that goes up more than makes up for the loser. For example, while one asset may go down 30% or 40%, the winning asset can go up 200% or 300%, more than making up for the loss.
I think the best thing about the portfolio is this: No one can predict the future so we might as well invest in all possibilities.